Slovakian Human Rights Issues

Slovakian Human Rights Issues

Hon.
Alfonse M. D'Amato
United States
Senate
105th Congress Congress
First Session Session
Tuesday, April 22, 1997

Mr. President, I rise today to call to my colleagues' attention to human rights developments in Slovakia. These developments point Slovakia in the opposite direction from the road their neighbors have been traveling. Their neighbors accept western values and seek integration into western institutions, developments leading to individual freedom, political democracy, and economic prosperity in a free market system. In stark contrast, Slovakia is not in compliance with some important Helsinki process commitments and is showing signs of regression toward authoritarian, if not totalitarian relations between the state and its citizens.

 

This country, which showed so much promise upon gaining independence in 1993, has failed to press ahead with vitally needed democratic reforms, in contrast with so many other countries in the region, including other newly independent countries. While the Czech Republic, Hungary, and Poland have worked hard to qualify for EU membership and NATO accession, Slovakia has lagged behind. While states like Lithuania and Slovenia have emerged from repressive empires to bring prosperity and hope to their peoples, Slovakia has not. Even Romania, which has struggled profoundly with the transition from totalitarianism, has managed to undertake significant reforms in the past few months.

 

From the outset, members of the Helsinki Commission have supported the democratic transformation in Slovakia. We believe that a strong, democratic Slovakia will enhance stability and security in Europe. Unfortunately, human rights and democratization in Slovakia have taken a severe beating, both literally and figuratively, in recent months. The hopes raised by free and fair elections and by the passage of a democratic constitution have been dashed. Last month, I understand some officials in Bratislava criticized a congressional report on NATO enlargement and complained that the discussion of Slovakia's progress toward democracy was too superficial. Well, I will provide a little more detail for those who genuinely want to know what worries us here in Washington.

 

Parliamentary democracy in Slovakia took a bullet in late November, when parliamentarian Frantisek Gaulieder, after announcing his resignation from the ruling coalition's Movement for a Democratic Slovakia, was stripped of his parliamentary mandate through antidemocratic means that are unheard of anywhere else in Europe. His removal has been protested by the European Union and the United States at OSCE meetings in Vienna, but, so far, to no avail. Even more outrageously, there was a bomb attack against Mr. Gaulieder's home, while he and his family were present. This is a tactic that reminds me of the Communists, fascists, and other similarly bloody and ruthless groups.

 

The 1995 kidnaping of President Kovac's son is not only still unsolved, but the manner in which this matter has been investigated has fueled speculation that the government's own security forces were directly involved in this crime. The murder last year of Robert Remias, who may have had key evidence in this case, and the ineffectual investigation of that case has deepened these suspicions. Adding to this disturbing pattern, questions are already being raised about the official investigation of the December bomb attack on Frantisek Gaulieder's home: Mr. Gauliedier has reported that some of his testimony regarding the attack is missing from his police file, that the first investigator was removed after only 3 days on the case, and that the Slovak Minister of Interior has, shockingly, suggested that Mr. Gaulieder may have planted the bomb himself, the same `he-did-it-himself' story that no one believes regarding the kidnaping of Mr. Kovac, Jr. I am now informed that this investigation, like the Kovac and Remias cases, has been `closed for lack of evidence.' For a country supposedly seriously committed through its OSCE obligations to the establishment of a `rule of law' state, this is a damagingly poor performance.

 

In addition to these acts of violence, it has been reported that the President, the President's son, and members of the Constitutional Court have been subjected to death threats. In fact, in early December the Association of Slovak Judges characterized the anonymous, threatening letters addressed to Milan Cic, the Chair of the Slovak Constitutional Court, as an attack against the court as a whole and a means of political intimidation. It has also been reported that on February 24 an opposition political figure in Banska Bystrica, Miroslav Toman, was attacked by four assailants.

 

We see a country where politically motivated violence is on the increase, where public confidence in the government's intent to provide security for all Slovaks has plummeted, and where acts of violence and threats of violence have brought into question both the rule of law and the very foundations of democracy. The ruling coalition has continued to pursue an openly hostile agenda toward a free and independent media and free speech in general. During the course of the past year, two newspapers, Slovenska Republika and Naroda Obroda, have seen a total of 21 editors quit over alleged political interference with their work. Defamation suits launched by public officials appear to be a common vehicle for harassing one's political opponents. Most recently, on November 19, the government barred four journalists from attending a regular press conference after the weekly cabinet meeting because the journalists were believed to be unsympathetic to the government. Although this decision was ultimately rescinded after a public outcry, including a protest from the journalists' union, it was further evidence of the government's relentless efforts to curb any reporting it doesn't like. In fact, in one of the more shocking episodes of the battle for free speech in Slovakia, it has been reported that Vladimir Meciar, the Prime Minister of the country and, not insignificantly, a former boxer, warned journalist Dusan Valko just a few weeks ago that `I will punch you so that your own mother will not recognize you.' So much for Mr. Meciar's tolerance for other points of view and nonviolence.

 

The Slovak Government continues to pursue a minorities policy that would be laughable if it were not so wrong and harmful. This policy has included everything from banning the playing of non-Slovak national anthems last year to the more recent decision to bar the issuance of report cards in the Hungarian language, reversing long-standing practices. Such petty gestures are beneath the dignity of the Slovak people, whose heritage has survived more than a thousand years of foreign, and often markedly repressive, rule. The Slovak language and culture, now protected in an independent Slovakia, are not so weak that they can only flourish at the expense of others. More seriously, it should be noted that past repressive crackdowns on minorities, for example, in Cluj, Romania, and in Kosovo, Serbia, began by whittling away at the minority language opportunities that had traditionally been respected by the majority community. Accordingly, these seemingly small restrictions on the Hungarian minority in Slovakia may very well be the harbinger of more repressive tactics ahead. With this in mind, the failure of the Slovak parliament to adopt a comprehensive minority language law, and the recommendation of the Ministry of Culture that such a law is not even necessary, defy common sense. Current laws on minority-language use in Slovakia do not provide adequate or satisfactory guidance regarding the use of Hungarian for official purposes, as the recent report-card flap shows. Much harm can be done until a minority language law is passed based on a genuine accommodation between the majority and minority communities.

 

Finally, recent reductions in government-provided cultural subsidies have had a disproportionately negative effect on the Hungarian community. The Slovak Government's defense, that all ethnic groups have been equally disadvantaged by these cut-backs, is unpersuasive in light of the Culture Minister Hudec's stated intent to `revive' Slovak culture in ethnically mixed areas and to make cultural subsidies reflect that goal. While Hungarians suffer from a more direct form of government intolerance, other ethnic groups suffer more indirectly. Put another way, it is not so much government action which threatens Romani communities in Slovakia, it is government inaction. According to the most recent State Department report on Slovakia, skinhead violence against Roma is a serious and growing problem; three Roma were murdered as a result of hate crimes last year, and others have been severely injured. Some Roma leaders, in response to their government's inability or unwillingness to protect them, have called for the formation of self-defense units. Obviously, the Slovak Government is just not doing enough to address the deadly threats they face. Moreover, the repugnant anti-Roma statements that have repeatedly been made by Jan Slota, a member of the ruling coalition, have fostered this climate of hatred.

 

The fact that the Czech Republic, Germany, and other European countries also confront skinhead movements in no way relieves Slovakia of its responsibility to combat racism, just as Slovakia's skinhead problem does not relieve the other countries of their responsibilities. It is time and past time for Prime Minister Meciar to use his moral authority and political leadership to set Slovakia on the right course. He must make clear, once and for all, that Jan Slota, who also called the Hungarian minority `barbarian Asiatic hordes', is not his spokesman, and that the Slovak National Party's unreconstructed fascists do not represent the majority of the people of Slovakia.

 

Mr. President, the leadership of the Helsinki Commission, including my co-chairman, Representative Christopher H. Smith, and ranking members Senator Frank Lautenberg and Representative Steny Hoyer, have raised our concern about developments in Slovakia with Slovak officials on a number of occasions. Unfortunately, all we hear from the Slovak leadership is one excuse after another, and all we see is a search for one scapegoat after another: it's the Hungarians, it's the Czechs, it's the Ukrainian mafia, it's the hostile international community seeking to destroy Slovakia's good name, it's a public relations problem abroad, not real problems back home: in short, there is always somebody else to blame besides the people that are, in fact, running the country.

 

I don't mean to suggest that there have been no positive developments in Slovakia over the past 4 years. In fact, I have been especially heartened by the emergence of a genuine civil society that is increasingly willing to express its views on a broad range of issues. But positive initiatives by the Government have been too few and too far between. I make this statement today in the hope that the leadership in Bratislava will start to make real reforms, like their colleagues in Romania, and begin to restore the promising future that the people of Slovakia deserve. Their present policies are leading down a path toward international isolation, increasing criticism, and economic deprivation for their people. One Belarus is enough.

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    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and the sponsor of the 2002 Senate-passed resolution urging the Ukrainian Government to ensure a democratic, transparent and fair election process in advance of their parliamentary elections, I find recent developments relating to upcoming presidential elections in Ukraine deeply troubling.   Ten months before these critical elections, a constitutional amendment is making its way through the Ukrainian parliament designed to ensure that the current, corruption riddled powers-that-be retain their grip on power, neutralizing the leader of the biggest democratic fraction in parliament and Ukraine’s most popular politician, Victor Yushchenko. The amendment calls for abbreviating the presidential term for the October 2004 elections to two years, with the election of a president by the parliament in 2006, notwithstanding opinion polls indicating that the overwhelming majority of Ukrainians support preserving direct presidential elections. This amendment had been approved by Ukraine’s Constitutional Court in a decision which has led many observers both within and outside of Ukraine to question the independence of the Court. The Court’s decision a few weeks ago to allow President Kuchma to run for a third term - despite the 1996 constitution’s two-term limit, has only raised more questions.   Media repression continues, including the issuance of directives sent to media by the Presidential Administration on what and how issues and events should be covered, especially in the electronic media. A recent Freedom House report concludes that "the current state of affairs of Ukraine’s media raises serious questions as to whether a fair and balanced electoral contest can be held." Newspapers critical of the authorities are subjected to various methods of repression, including attacks against journalists, arrests of publishers, "special attention" via tax inspections, administrative controls over distribution and pressure on advertisers.   Mr. President, at the same time, administrative measures are being taken to prevent lawful political activity, the starkest example of which was the disruption - instigated by the authorities - of a national congress of the Yushchenko-led Our Ukraine bloc in Donetsk last November. Most recently, a presidential decree dismissed the elected Our Ukraine mayor of Mukachevo - despite a ruling by the Supreme Court which confirmed that he had been elected in a legitimate way. In a telling twist, an acting mayor from the political party led by the head of the Presidential Administration, Victor Medvedchuk, has been installed.   As Co-Chairman of the Helsinki Commission, I share the concern of colleagues on both sides of the aisle that the presidential election in Ukraine scheduled for October be free, fair, open and transparent and conducted in a manner consistent with Ukraine’s freely-undertaken commitments as a member of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). The Helsinki Commission, consistent with our mandate to monitor and encourage compliance with OSCE agreements by all participating States, will continue to follow the situation in Ukraine closely.   Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that the text of a recent Washington Post editorial on troubling pre-election developments in Ukraine be included in the Record. Thank you, Mr. President.   There being no objection, the material was ordered to be printed in the Record, as follows:   [From the Washington Post, Jan. 12, 2004] A Resolution for Ukraine   According to Secretary of State Colin L. Powell, the Bush administration's first foreign policy resolution for 2004 is "to expand freedom." And not only in Iraq and the Middle East: In an op-ed article published in the New York Times, Mr. Powell promised to support "the consolidation of freedom in many new but often fragile democracies . . . in Latin America, Europe, Asia and Africa." We hope that support will extend beyond the rhetoric that too often has substituted for genuine democratic advocacy during President Bush's first three years, and that it will be applied even where the United States has interests that make toleration of autocracy tempting.   One region where such U.S. engagement, or its absence, might prove decisive is the band of former Soviet republics to the west and south of Russia. Several are struggling democracies; others are ruled by autocrats. Almost all are under threat from Moscow's resurgent imperialism. As the tiny state of Georgia recently demonstrated, democracy is the best defense against Russian President Vladimir Putin's attempts to create a Kremlin-dominated sphere of influence. Countries that have held free and fair elections have tended to gravitate toward strengthening their independence and seeking good relations with the West, while unstable autocrats are more likely to yield to Mr. Putin.   The country closest to a tipping point may be Ukraine. Like Russia, Ukraine has an electoral democracy tainted by corruption and strong-arm tactics and an economy warped by clans of oligarchs. Much of its population, however, aspires to integration with the West. President Leonid Kuchma has been linked to corruption and serious human rights violations. In recent months he has been moving steadily closer to Mr. Putin, allowing a Russian takeover of much of Ukraine's energy industry and signing an economic integration treaty.   Now Mr. Kuchma appears to be looking for ways to curtail Ukraine's democracy so that he can prolong his own hold on power when his term expires this year. Last month his allies in Parliament pushed through the first draft of a constitutional amendment that would cut short the term of the president due to be elected in October and provide that future presidents be chosen by Parliament, where Mr. Kuchma's forces retain control. Then the judges he appointed to the Supreme Court ruled that the constitution's two-term limit does not prevent Mr. Kuchma from serving again. The president's cronies protest that they are only moving the country toward a more parliament-centered system, and Mr. Kuchma coyly says he has not "yet" decided to seek another term. But the effect of his moves would be to neutralize the country's most popular leader, Viktor Yushchenko, who, polls say, would win the next presidential election if it were fairly held.   More than Mr. Kuchma's quest for continued power is at stake. Mr. Yushchenko is popular precisely because he is associated with those Ukrainians who seek to consolidate an independent democracy and move the country toward integration with Europe. Mr. Putin surely will be sympathetic to Mr. Kuchma's subversion of the system. The question is whether the Bush administration will work with Western Europe to mount an effective counter. Freedom could be consolidated this year in Ukraine or slip away. The outcome may just depend on how well Mr. Powell keeps his resolution.

  • Helsinki Commission Reviews Work of Tribunal for War Crimes in the Former Yugoslavia

    The Helsinki Commission held a briefing on the path to justice in southeastern Europe on October 7. Presenting his remarks at the briefing was Judge Theodor Meron, President of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY). Judge Meron began his remarks by underscoring the immensity of the task at hand. The vast scale of the crimes committed during the Yugoslav conflict, he said, "the murders, the rapes and deportations, the acts of torture, destruction and cruelty, would dwarf the capacity of any single court to bring more than a partial, a very partial reckoning." Nevertheless, he said, the tribunal struggles on, patiently and temperately disclosing the truth, giving the victims "a chance to see their sufferings recorded and at least in some small measure vindicated." Judge Meron asserted that the tribunal demonstrates the viciousness of those who built their power with hate-filled beliefs and sends a compelling message "that only through genuine reconciliation can all the peoples of the former Yugoslavia create thriving societies." Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Ranking Member Rep. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) underscored the important role the tribunal plays. In his opening remarks, Chairman Smith explained that the court was a way of helping to break the climate of impunity and "ensuring that those responsible for heinous crimes would be held to account." Commissioner Cardin, likewise, described strong United States support for the court, saying that the United States Congressional Delegation to the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly has raised the war crimes issue at every annual meeting in the last decade. Cardin has sponsored numerous initiatives over the years aimed at bolstering support for the work of the ICTY. The United States took a leading role in the creation of the ICTY, and funds approximately one quarter of its annual budget. Given the significance placed on the ICTY and its mission, three issues were highlighted: the compliance by participating States with ICTY demands; the implications of the ICTY's completion strategy; and, the procedural methods of the court. All three participants insisted on compliance from states in turning over indictees and granting increased access to evidence and archives. Commissioner Cardin recalled that "there are still indictees who have not been turned over to The Hague. Some highly visible indictees, such as Mladic and Karadzic, we've now been talking about for too many years." Judge Meron contended that while states in the region have increased their cooperation, such cooperation still needs to be made more complete. Sixteen indicted individuals, he explained, are still at large, including Serb army chief Ratko Mladic, Serb leader Radovan Karadzic, as well as Ante Gotovina, one-time Commander of the Split Military District. Meron said that the international community needs to use what he regards as its considerable leverage with the countries of the region to convince them to arrest and deliver to The Hague the most senior people allegedly responsible for war crimes. Meron noted improvements from Serbia-Montenegro, stating that he is "encouraged by the emerging spirit of cooperation in Belgrade which has produced some significant results in the last year." But, he said, more needs to be done. Serbia, he argued, must arrest Mladic, whose whereabouts, it is believed, are known; improve access to archives; and end the bottleneck in meeting the demands presented by the ICTY prosecutor. Meron said the tribunal is also "expecting maximum cooperation...from Zagreb" and insisted that "there is no bias or preference of the target of our cooperation." Judge Meron, however, reserved particularly harsh words for Republika Srpska. That entity of Bosnia-Herzegovina, he said, "has not been cooperating at all.... There has been no compliance on their part, and much more international pressure is needed." With UN Security Council deadlines for completion approaching, Chairman Smith expressed his concern that key indictees would decide to simply wait out the tribunal's mandate. Judge Meron assured the Commission that the tribunal "will not move toward any closure before we have people like Mladic, Karadzic, and Ante Gotovina at The Hague." Smith expressed his full support for such a policy, stating that "to allow people like Mladic and Karadzic to escape justice by running out the clock would be a gross violation of human rights in and of itself." As part of the ICTY's completion strategy, Judge Meron said the court intended to transfer some low- to mid-level cases from the ICTY to competent courts in the region, in particular the special war crimes chamber within the newly reconstituted State Court of Bosnia-Herzegovina in Sarajevo. He expressed his appreciation to the international community for supporting this body and hoped that the United States and others would follow through on their promises for generous financial contributions. In addition to improving the legal capacity to try war criminals, Meron praised the Sarajevo court for the training it will provide to lawyers and judges in the area and "the message of democracy and the rule of law that will be triggered by such a court." Because of the fragility of the social system in Bosnia-Herzegovina, every bench of the Sarajevo court will have two international judges and only one local judge. He expressed his desire that, over time, the social environment will change to allow the composition to be reversed to give more significant representation to local judges. When asked whether cases could be transferred to war crimes chambers and courts elsewhere in the region other than the Sarajevo court, Judge Meron said he did not believe it feasible at the moment. At the same time, he argued, "War crimes trials have the greatest resonance when they take place very close to the theater of crime, the place where the crimes have been committed, where the victims or their families still live." He said, therefore, that it was his hope to have "more and more trials conducted in the area." Given the approaching of Security Council deadlines, Judge Meron also discussed some procedural changes the ICTY has adopted in its completion strategy. He described several internal initiatives made by the court attempting to improve efficiency. The tribunal has reformed its procedures for interlocutor appeals to reduce the number of interruptions in the trial and has restricted prosecutorial evidence that judges deem duplicative or unnecessary. Its ability to finish working in a timely fashion, he said, also depends on the choices the prosecutor makes on future indictments. In response to a question from the audience, Judge Meron commented about the tribunal's sentencing procedures. The tribunal has at times been accused of meting out sentences that are not commensurate with the gravity of the crime committed. Others have accused the tribunal of passing sentences for some defendants that were much greater than sentences for others convicted of similar crimes. Without sentencing guidelines from the Security Council, Judge Meron said, the tribunal has had to create its own common law. He stated though that he had "no reason to believe that as a general proposition our sentencing has not been within the parameters of what I would consider to be just and reasonable." Nevertheless, Judge Meron said, he has formed a working group of several judges to address the sentencing issue because he believes there is no aspect of the tribunal's activities that cannot be improved further. The tribunal, according to Judge Meron, represents an enormous experiment in international cooperation. Starting almost from scratch, the ICTY had to create its own rules of procedure and evidence. This effort, the judge claimed, will have an impact even beyond the specific crimes considered. He concluded, "The sort of judgments that we will leave behind from very detailed problems of definitions of international crimes, on the interpretation of the evidence, on the conflicts of evidence, on how to reconcile the notions of common law and civil law, will prove to be, I think, a very important legacy to us all." This briefing was the latest in a series of United States Helsinki Commission events and other activities this year intended to promote justice in southeastern Europe through improved cooperation with the ICTY. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Frank Assessment Presented on State of Rights in Russia

    By John Finerty CSCE Staff Advisor The United States Helsinki Commission held a staff-level briefing on November 13, 2003 with Tanya Lokshina, Executive Director of the Moscow Helsinki Group, to discuss the status of human rights and democratic development in the Russian Federation. Ms. Lokshina was accompanied by Maureen Greenwood, Advocacy Director for Europe, the Middle East and North Africa at Amnesty International USA and Dr. Sarah E. Mendelson, Senior Fellow, Russia and Eurasia Program, Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ms. Lokshina opened the meeting by noting the human rights community in Russia is greatly concerned about the arrest of former YUKOS chief executive Mikhail Khodorkovsky, reportedly Russia's richest man arrested on tax evasion and fraud charges after contributing money to political opposition parties. The case, she said, proves beyond doubt that the Russian state is out to get any independent voice. Khodorkovsky is different from other politicians, she stated. While his fortune may have had questionable origins ("fraud and tax evasion are prevalent everywhere") Khodorkovsky's current corporate policy of transparency is not useful to a corrupt government bureaucracy. He also supported opposition forces in the Duma, ranging from free-market, pro-reform parties to the Communists. "The action against Yukos sent a clear signal to other investors," Lokshina continued. "Do not be independent. Do not support transparent dealings with parties or civil society initiatives.... Now the rest of the business community is terrified to follow suit." Regarding freedom of the media, Lokshina said there is no level of media not controlled by the state. Even non-state television channels are controlled by managers who are themselves controlled by the state. There is also little independent print media in Russia. Ms. Lokshina, who had been in Grozny for the Chechen presidential elections, called the exercise a combination of comedy and tragedy. In the face of overwhelming indifference of the population and empty voting stations, the official statistics were not to be believed, she maintained. On election day, Lokshina had not seen any voters except in special places arranged for foreign journalists. She also saw precinct protocols where 100% of the eligible voters had supposedly cast 100% of their ballots in favor of incumbent President Kadyrov - a virtual impossibility, given an inevitable percentage of disqualified (i.e., defaced or incorrectly filled out) ballots. To be sure, any serious competition for Kadyrov had been eased off the ballot long before election day. Ms. Lokshina also saw the recent gubernatorial elections in St. Petersburg--with the heavy-handed use of "administrative resources" by the pro-Putin apparat playing a major role--as a harbinger of future elections throughout Russia. Parliamentary elections are scheduled to be held on December 7, with presidential elections expected in March 2004. The three experts agreed that the recent Constitutional Court decision annulling the restrictive law on election coverage of candidates and election "propaganda" was a positive, albeit tardy, step. Ms. Lokshina said one of the worst problems is the arbitrary law enforcement, and that "Everything that happens in Chechnya also happens in the rest of Russia. It is merely magnified in Chechnya." Personnel from police forces all over Russia serve time in Chechnya, and they bring back to their home towns the arbitrariness and impunity learned there. For example, the individuals who arrested Khodorkovsky stormed in wearing security service uniforms. It was later learned they were not security service employees, but ordinary police. Similarly, the recent sweep of the Open Society Institute premises in Moscow was reminiscent of security sweeps in Chechnya. Sarah Mendelson of CSIS pointed out that aside from political parties, the Federal Security Service (FSB) is the least supported institution among the populace. Ms. Lokshina stressed that Russian human rights organizations need support from the West. In many ways, it feels like Russia is going back to Soviet realities. The difference, though, is that instead of being treated like an enemy, Russia, despite abuses, is now being treated like a civilized state, which, she says, is dangerous. When President Bush calls President Putin his friend, she said, it sends a clear message that the United States supports what is happening in Russia. America used to critique what is happening in Chechnya, for example. Russia, Lokshina contends, is becoming a threat to its own citizens and the world community at large. Uncritical Western support is counter to its own interests, she remarked. Asked about reports of widespread public apathy in Russia, Dr. Mendelson said there is certainly a great deal of apathy, but there is a certain line over which the state cannot go. Ms. Lokshina added that some of the apathy has to do with lack of knowledge and heavy media control. For instance, it is frequently reported that Russians are not opposed to some level of censorship. In reality, though, this does not mean they do not want to know what is going on in Chechnya. What they want is to get rid of scams and con games ("chernukha"), i.e. "citizens would rather the government had control of the media than Boris Berezovsky." Ms. Greenwood raised the issue of the situation of the Meshketian Turks living in tenuous circumstances in southern Russia. She appreciated U.S. initiatives on the subject but urged more follow-through regarding the possibility of granting refugee status to Meskhetian Turks desirous of emigrating. Greenwood also noted that not only have Meskhetian Turks experienced discrimination and harassment in southern Russia, but NGOs working on their behalf are now under pressure from local authorities. Ms. Greenwood asked that the United States maintain the pressure to prevent Russia from forcing internally displaced persons (IDPs) back into Chechnya. She said international pressure had succeeded in stopping Russia from overtly closing the remaining camps, but there remains subtle, psychological coercion. In response to an inquiry about the state of freedom of thought within the academic community, Mendelson related several instances of FSB harassment of academics. "In Moscow," she commented, "it simply feels like there is less oxygen. You cannot breathe." Ms. Lokshina contends that the situation in the provinces is even worse. Asked about specific policy recommendations, Lokshina favored a strong statement from the United States against the anti-democratic trends and continued U.S. assistance programs for civil society and human rights in Russia. Mendelson added that the United States has made a strategic investment in Russian democracy and civil society, but this investment is under funded and it is too early to "graduate" Russia from such programs. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce. United States Helsinki Commission Intern Jason Ekk contributed to this article.

  • Further Assault Against Activists in Belarus

    By Orest Deychakiwsky CSCE Staff Advisor and Ronald McNamara CSCE Deputy Chief of Staff United States Helsinki Commission staff met with a wide variety of opposition party members, non-governmental organization representatives and independent media journalists during an October 11-15 visit to the west Belarusian city of Hrodna and the capital city, Minsk. While the repressive apparat of Belarusian strongman Alexander Lukashenka has mounted a full-fledged assault on civil society over the last few months, pro-democracy forces remain committed to the creation of an independent, sovereign and democratic Belarus. In meetings with representatives from civil society throughout the visit, discussions inevitably turned to the Belarus Democracy Act of 2003, introduced earlier this year by United States Helsinki Commission Chairman Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-NJ) and Co-Chairman Senator Ben Nighthorse Campbell (R-CO). The Belarus Democracy Act would authorize increased assistance for democracy-building activities such as support for non-governmental organizations, independent media--including radio broadcasting to Belarus, and international exchanges. In a clear effort to consolidate his firm hold on power, Lukashenka has further tightened his grip on independent elements of Belarusian society, using the full force of the state to repress dissent. This comports with his new "state ideology” which has as its aim to further his rule by eliminating any vestige of pluralism in Belarus. Non-governmental organizations have been "de-legalized," or threatened with closure, often on petty pretexts. Increasingly, spouses and relatives of activists are being used as pawns with threats of dismissal or other forms of retribution. The media are especially facing pressure, with the electronic media under the control of the authorities and the independent media increasingly subject to systematic reprisals. Dozens of independent publications have been closed or threatened with closure. State printing houses have refused to print even previously registered editions and the state's distribution system refuses to circulate independent media material. Even Russian television is getting pushed out. A proposed new media law threatens to further erode freedom of media. Independent trade unions are becoming further circumscribed. The Government of Belarus has made no substantive progress in meeting the criteria for democratization established more than three years ago by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe: End repression and the climate of fear; Permit a functioning, independent media; Ensure transparency of the election process; and Strengthen the functioning of the parliament. No progress has been made to investigate the cases of four opposition figures who disappeared in 1999-2000. The four are presumed dead. Attempts by Belarusian democrats and the international community to engage in a dialogue with the powers-that-be on amending the electoral code have thus far been unsuccessful. Belarusian authorities refuse to cooperate with the OSCE, even within the framework of its limited mandate. In both Hrodna and Minsk, Commission staff met with a wide gamut of representatives from leading non-governmental organizations, independent media, national and local leaders of democratic opposition political parties, wives of the disappeared, leaders of independent trade unions, dissident members of the National Assembly, various religious leaders, and human rights and cultural organizations. On the official Belarusian side, Commission staff met with the Governor of Hrodna and officials from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raising a wide range of concerns with respect to Belarus' refusal to implement its OSCE commitments, including those pertaining to the deepening assault on civil society. In Hrodna, the issues surrounding Jewish cemeteries were raised with the Governor Vladimir Savchenko. On the U.S. side, staff held constructive meetings with newly installed Ambassador George Kroll, Embassy staff and officials of the United States Agency for International Development. The United States Helsinki Commission, an independent federal agency, by law monitors and encourages progress in implementing provisions of the Helsinki Accords. The Commission, created in 1976, is composed of nine Senators, nine Representatives and one official each from the Departments of State, Defense and Commerce.

  • Business Climate in Ukraine

    Mr. President, as Co-Chairman of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in Europe, I have closely followed developments in Ukraine including aspects of the human, security and economic dimensions. My desire is that Ukraine consolidates its independence by strengthening democratic institutions, including the judiciary, and undertaking reforms to improve the business climate essential to attracting much-needed foreign investment.   Twelve years after independence, the people of Ukraine deserve to enjoy the fruits of freedom and prosperity, but obstacles remain. Bringing Ukraine more fully into Europe is both essential to the country's long-term economic success and important for European security. Accelerating Ukraine's movement toward Europe is timely and needed. While high-ranking Ukrainian officials pay lip service to such integration, the jury is still out as to whether they are prepared to take the bold steps that will be required to advance such integration. An important barometer for the future will be the extent to which the country's moves to confront the corruption and crime that retard the process of democratization and economic liberalization and erode Ukraine's security and independence.   While those at the top say the right things, there is justified skepticism as to their sincerity. This is certainly the case concerning Ukraine's current President, Leonid Kuchma. The controversies surrounding Kuchma undercut his credibility with respect to the issue of combating corruption. Nevertheless, this should not detract from the urgency of tackling corruption in the lead up to the presidential elections to select Kuchma's successor in 2004.   Meanwhile, those serious about rooting out corruption and corrupt officials should take a hard look at the handling, or more accurately, the mishandling, of Ukrainian and foreign owned businesses. For example, United States-owned businesses have been victimized through expropriations, asset thefts, extortion and the like perpetrated or abetted by corrupt officials and courts in Ukraine. While new cases continue to occur, longstanding cases remain unresolved with investors unable to obtain the relief to which they are entitled under Ukrainian and international law.   Although the State Department has made repeated representations about these cases at senior levels of the Kuchma administration, Kyiv rebuffed repeated requests to resolve them in accordance with the law. At the same time it refuses to punish the perpetrators of the criminal acts or take corrective measures to prevent similar cases from arising.   If the victims are to ever achieve a measure of justice, it is essential that U.S. officials raise these cases at every appropriate opportunity.   In one especially egregious and illustrative case, well-connected individuals in Ukraine were able to orchestrate the seizure of all the assets of a successful pharmaceutical joint venture which was half owned by United States investors. When, 6 years after the theft the Ukrainian appeals courts finally dismissed the spurious claims to the assets on grounds that they were based entirely on forged and falsely fabricated documents, senior Ukrainian officials launched into action. Within weeks of these judicial decisions, the Ukrainian President reportedly convened a meeting of senior officials, including the cognizant senior judges and his own senior law enforcement and national security cabinet level officers, at which he made clear that he did not want the stolen assets restored to their rightful American owners.   The courts quickly complied, without explanation, and in disregard of the copious evidence before them, the judges reversed the decisions taken just two months earlier and held in favor of the claimants. Several months later longstanding criminal charges against the same individuals were dropped.   The circumstances surrounding this case and others involving United States investors are indicative of the far reaching scope of corruption and the rule of law deficit in Ukraine today. While the matter was repeatedly raised by the State Department several years ago, I am concerned that the Ukrainian side might assume that the matter is a closed case. I urge officials at the Departments of State and Commerce to disabuse Ukrainian Government officials of such an impression.   If the Kuchma administration is serious about rooting out corruption and advancing democracy and the rule of law, these cases provide a good starting point. Only time will tell if they are up to the challenge.

  • 80th Anniversary of the Turkish Republic

    Mr. Speaker, this week the Turkish Republic, an original participating State of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, will mark its 80th anniversary. The Turkish Government, led by Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, is working hard toward membership in the European Union. The accession of Turkey to the Union would recognize the important reforms that have already been adopted and accelerate the reform process. The various constitutional reform packages in recent years have addressed, or begun to address, many longstanding human rights concerns. As Chairman of the Helsinki Commission I am pleased to note that much needed change is beginning to take place. For example, the crucial issue of torture is finally receiving the attention necessary to prevent such abuse and address the legacy of this endemic scourge. Perpetrators of torture are facing punishment by a new generation of state prosecutors. For the first time, police who have committed acts of torture are being brought to justice. However the ongoing use of torture in southeast Turkey in the guise of anti-terrorism is an outrage that Turkey must bring to a halt. It is not enough to pass these reforms or to hold a few show trials. No, all transgressors must be arrested and tried. There must be a zero tolerance policy in place on torture. Other issues of concern have also benefited from the reform package process. For example, religious communities with "foundation'' status may now acquire real property, as well as construct new churches and mosques and other structures for religious use. However, there is a considerable gap between the law and its application. Also, while the problem of allowing the return of internally displaced persons who fled the internal conflict with the PKK terrorist organization remains. Renewed efforts to address this problem are promising, such as inviting the UN Rapporteur on IDPs to visit and the possibility that Turkey may host an international conference on internally displaced persons. While Turkey still has a long way to go to successfully eradicate human trafficking in its borders, the government has taken some positive steps. While I am pleased Turkey has expanded its cooperation with source countries to improve its victim protection efforts, I want to encourage continued improvement to wipe out this modern day slavery. Unfortunately, Mr. Speaker, other serious concerns remain. While Turkey works to bring its laws and regulations into conformity with the Copenhagen criteria for EU accession and works toward fulfilling human rights commitments as an OSCE participating State, actions taken by police and other government authorities raise doubts as to the sincerity of these reforms. The imprisonment this month of Nurcihan and Nurulhak Saatcioglu for attending demonstrations four years ago protesting the prohibition against head scarves in public institutions, is deeply troubling. The fact that the government denies women who choose this religious expression the ability to attend state-run universities and work in public buildings, including schools and hospitals, is counterproductive and an encroachment of their right to freedom of expression. Similarly, authorities severely curb the public sharing of religious belief by either Muslims or Christians with the intent to persuade the listener to another point of view. These limitations on religious clothing and speech stifle freedom of religion and expression and are contrary to Turkey's OSCE commitments. At a fundamental level, the inability of religious groups to maintain property holdings is problematic, as the Office of Foundations has closed and seized properties of non-Muslim religious groups for contrived and spurious reasons. Groups most affected by this policy are the Syrian Orthodox, Armenian Apostolic and Greek Orthodox churches, which have also experienced problems when seeking to repair and maintain existing buildings or purchase new ones. I hope the application of the aforementioned reforms will rectify this problem. The most notable property issue concerns the continued closure of the Orthodox Theological School of Halki on the island of Heybeli in the Sea of Marmara. Considering the reportedly promising conversations between the church and government, I urge Turkey to return full control to the Ecumenical Patriarchate and allow religious training to resume, in keeping with relevant OSCE commitments. Furthermore, religious groups not envisioned by the Lausanne Treaty have no legal route for purchasing property and building facilities, since the new legal provisions affect only communities with the official status of a "foundation.'' As no process exists for these other groups to obtain foundation status, they are forced to meet in private apartments. This lack of official status has real consequences, since provincial governorships and the Ministry of Interior have initiated efforts to close these meeting places, leaving the smaller Protestant groups and Jehovah's Witnesses without any options. Churches and their leaders in Diyarbakir, Mersin, Iskenderun and other towns all face troubling government prosecutions and threats of closure. I urge Turkey to create a transparent and straightforward process to grant religious groups so desiring official recognition, so that they too can enjoy the right to establish and freely maintain accessible places of worship of assembly. The continued incarceration of four Kurdish former parliamentarians: Leyla Zana, Hatip Dicle, Orhan Dogan and Selim Sadak is particularly disturbing. Convicted in 1994, they have won their appeal to the European Court of Human Rights and were granted a retrial under recent Government of Turkey legal reforms. The retrial began March 28, and at each of the eight sessions, most recently October 17, the court has refused to release the defendants. Their continued imprisonment is an outrage. Mr. Speaker, on the 80th anniversary of the Turkish Republic, the initial legal reforms put in place by the government display Turkey's--or at least the legislators in Ankara's--apparent willingness to address much needed reforms in human rights practices. But actions speak louder than words. We need to see implementation of these reforms seriously carried out before we can rest assured that Turkey has met minimal OSCE human rights commitments. As Turkey strives to enter the European Union, I applaud the efforts that have been made to date and urge Ankara to intensify the reform process.  

  • OSCE Police-Related Activities

    This briefing, which CSCE Senior Advisor Elizabeth B. Pryor moderated, specifically focused on efforts to provide national police forces in multiple southeastern European countries with adequate and proper training and resources for the purpose of combating criminal activity. The countries in question (i.e. Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, and Tajikistan) have needed particularly effective and professional law enforcement agencies. Since the 1990s, the OSCE has helped to monitor and train police officers, with notable success in Kosovo, southern Serbia, and elsewhere in Southeastern Europe. At the time of the briefing, the focus had been shifted to countries in Central Asia and the Caucasus region, headed by Richard Monk, the witness in this briefing, who had been the OSCE Police Adviser since February of 2002.

  • The Path to Justice in Southeastern Europe

    This briefing examined the status of current and future efforts to bring justice to southeastern Europe after a decade of conflict dominated by war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide. The international responses to the atrocities committed in Yugoslavia during the 1990s, including the establishment of the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia, were addressed. Theodor Meron, President of the Tribunal since March 2003, discussed the ongoing efforts of ICTY and the possibility of completing all trials by 2008 and appeals by 2010. He also addressed the advantages of transferring some cases for trial in national courts in the region and the challenges these courts would face in meeting international standards, including witness protection, fostering inter-state cooperation and garnering unbiased, independent judges.

  • Murder of Ukrainian Heorhiy Gongadze Still Unsolved After 3 Years

    Mr. Speaker, the murder of Ukrainian investigative journalist Heorhiy Gongadze remains unsolved--three years after he was murdered. On September 16, 2000, Gongadze, editor of "Ukrainska Pravda," an Internet news publication critical of high-level corruption in Ukraine, disappeared.   Ukrainian President Kuchma and a number of high-ranking officials have been implicated in his disappearance and the circumstances leading to his murder. Audio recordings exist that contain conversations between Kuchma and other senior government officials discussing the desirability of Gongadze's elimination. Over the last three years, the Ukrainian authorities' handling, or more accurately, mishandling of this case has been characterized by obfuscation and stonewalling.   Last month, a prime suspect in the case, former senior militiaman Ihor Honcharov, who allegedly headed a gang of ex-police accused of several kidnappings and murders, died in police custody under mysterious circumstances. His posthumous letters--which give a detailed account of events surrounding Gongadze's death and which name names--are now being investigated by the Prosecutor General's office. A few days ago, Prosecutor General Svyatoslav Piskun indicated that some facts in the letters have proved to be true. Reportedly, warrants have been issued for two suspects in the killing.   Mr. Speaker, a credible investigation of this case by Ukrainian authorities is long overdue. At the same time, it is important to stress that not only those who committed the actual crime, but those who ordered it--no matter who they may be--need to be brought to justice.   Unfortunately, the Gongadze case is not an isolated one. The murder, and deaths in suspicious car accidents, of journalists and opposition figures, have become commonplace. Earlier this year, Ukraine's Ombudsman Nina Karpachova asserted that journalism remains among the most dangerous professions in Ukraine, with 36 media employees having been killed over the past ten years, and many more have been beaten, including several within the last few months. This past July, Volodymyr Yefremov, a journalist critical of president Kuchma who worked with the press freedom group Institute of Mass Information (11/41), died in a suspect car accident. Just two weeks ago, Ivan Havdyda, who was head of the Ternopil region branch of the democratic opposition "Our Ukraine," was found murdered in Kyiv under questionable circumstances.   Over the last three years, the Helsinki Commission, Members of the House and Senate, Department of State, the OSCE, the Council of Europe and other international institutions repeatedly have raised the Gongadze murder case and urged the Ukrainian authorities to undertake a serious investigation into the this case. The response from Ukrainian officials has done nothing but cast doubt about the Ukrainian Government's commitment to the rule of law. Last year--just to cite one example--Ukrainian authorities blocked FBI experts from examining evidence gathered during the initial investigation, even after promising to accept U.S. technical assistance in the matter.   I also hope that the Ukrainian parliament will take determined action in encouraging governmental accountability for solving the Gongadze and other murders, and bringing those involved to justice.   The lack of a resolution of the Gongadze and other cases of those who have perished under suspicious circumstances has tarnished the credibility of the Ukrainian authorities in dealing with fundamental human rights.   Mr. Speaker, as Chairman of the Helsinki Commission and in the strongest possible terms, I once again urge Ukrainian authorities to take seriously the many enduring concerns regarding the circumstances that led to Heorhiy Gongadze's murder and the subsequent investigation.

  • Briefing: Property Restitution and Compensation in Post-Communist Europe: a Status Update

    A central element of Nazi and communist persecution in Central and Eastern Europe was the uncompensated confiscation of real and personal property from individuals and religious communities. The end of communist tyranny after 1990 sparked hope that governments in the region would redress the wrongful seizures of private and communal property, such as churches, synagogues, schools and hospitals. The Helsinki Commission held three prior hearings on the issue of restitution and compensation for property seized during World War II and the communist-era in Central and Eastern Europe. This briefing surveyed developments since the Commission's July 2002 hearing relating to the return of wrongfully confiscated properties in the region. Particular attention was given to the progress, or lack thereof, in the Czech Republic, Poland, and Romania in removing the bureaucratic and legal obstacles faced by individuals--including U.S. citizen claimants--and religious communities seeking restitution of communal property, family homes, and/or land.

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